Chatting with ChatGPT

Unfolding the possibilities of AI.

Nearly 20 years ago, when I was completing a PhD in computer vision, I was drawn to an AI technique called “machine learning” for recognizing different images. I recall being astounded at the profound elegance of “training” a computer with example images and then observing how well it could identify new images. My early experiences with machine learning seemed magical, yet the field has advanced rapidly since then.

One of the latest developments to catch widespread attention has been ChatGPT, an AI “chatbot.” ChatGPT can interact with a user by responding to questions and replying to prompts. While some of the responses are amusing or simply wrong, the results are often astonishing, providing surprisingly good responses to a wide variety of prompts. It can even compose poems, stories, sermons and essays. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school found that ChatGPT was able to pass the final exam for the Master of Business Administration degree. The results have been so remarkable it has led to speculations about how it will affect education, journalism and the future of many skilled jobs.

Does it ‘get’ CC?

I asked ChatGPT “Why is Reformed Christian journalism important?” Here’s part of its answer:

Reformed Christian journalism is important because it provides a unique perspective and voice in the media landscape that is rooted in the principles and beliefs of the Reformed Christian faith. By offering this perspective, it helps to shape public discourse and bring a biblical worldview to bear on current events, social and cultural issues, and politics. Through its reporting and analysis, Reformed Christian journalism can promote understanding and promote God’s truth in a world that often lacks it.

Though a little wordy, this response could have been written by a CC columnist, and further developments promise greater improvements. Clearly, the impact of these technologies will be substantial. What follows are three general guidelines for forging a Christian response to AI.

Rules of thumb

First, we need to avoid the pitfalls of viewing technology with either too much optimism or with undue pessimism. Technology is neither the villain nor the saviour. AI is part of the latent potential in creation, and we are called to responsibly unfold its possibilities.

Second, the Biblical story is clear that humans are created in the image of God and are distinct from machines, even if machines become capable of things that, up to now, only humans have been able to do. Geoff Colvin suggests asking “What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans, regardless of what computers can do?” (Humans Are Underrated). AI should never be a substitute for human wisdom, care or companionship.

Third, we must discern norms for the responsible use of AI. The creators of ChatGPT had to grapple with bias (including racism) in their training set. More generally, AI systems can perpetuate injustice, a real threat as big data is employed various fields including insurance, policing, marketing, loans and politics. We will need to discern creational norms for AI which include considerations like justice, caring, stewardship, transparency and trust. Appropriate norms should point us towards using AI for opening up new possibilities to show love to our neighbor and care for the earth and its creatures.

Christians will need to join the wider dialogue surrounding these powerful new technologies, bringing insights about what it means to be human and to help shape public policy with a voice that is both biblical and relevant.

Derek wrote this most of this column, with a small excerpt written by ChatGPT.


  • Derek Schuurman

    Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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One Comment

  1. We need to be aware and discerning every minute of the day. God help us. Thank God for all these writers who help the general public use technology in God-honouring ways.

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